Author/Artist: Natsuki Takaya
Publisher: Chuang Yi
Date Published: 1999
Fruits Basket is the story of Tohru Honda, a high school girl who’s mother has recently died. Through a series of events she comes to live in the house of her classmate, the mysterious Yuki Sohma. Inevitably she accidentally finds out the Sohma’s family secret – the Sohma’s are cursed by the Zodiac. 12 members of the family at any given time are possessed by the Zodiac animal spirits and transform when hugged by the opposite gender…
A quirky premise for a quirkily named series (yes the spelling is correct). I bought the first volume when I was on holiday and I needed something to read.
Fruits Basket starts out pretty bad. The drawing is just passable, the cover art is substandard, the layout is hard to understand at times and the author feels the need to tell us what games she is currently playing in the a side column. It is full of manga cliches – the boys are feminine and pretty, everyone has massive eyes and abstract hairstyles, and not a single person looks Japanese let alone remotely asian despite being set in modern Japan. At one point I was considering not continuing the series. But having read the entire story I am very grateful I pressed on.
Its not just because Natsuki Takaya fixes the majority of the issues stated above as the story progresses (by the end of the series the drawings are acute and beautiful). Its because Fruits Basket is a rare, rough diamond. It may not be perfect, but it has something invaluable that so many authors fail to achieve – you cannot help but care about the characters. It digs its little hooks in and they don’t let you go until you finish reading the story about Tohru Honda. It’s an almost baffling experience being manipulated into caring so much.
Takaya has a wonderful ability to tell a story with a main cast of at least 12 characters without repeating story lines, trivialising issues, losing her plot lines or making characters similar. Every character has detailed histories, traits and psychological issues. She also has the ability to make you hate a character so badly, then while slowly unravelling their story, make you suddenly understand and care about them. In contrast to that, Takaya also creates a main character that is near perfect – she is forgiving, loving and compassionate. The modern audience generally dislikes good characters or characters who are not ‘realistic’ (aka selfish). Yet it was impossible for me to dislike Tohru, Takaya convinces her audience that Tohru just is that way. Given all the antiheroes and flawed characters lately, Tohru is a breath of fresh air.
Though the storyline does get heavy on the angst and drama sometimes (I would not suggest reading the entire series at once) there is a lot of humour, silliness, randomness and ‘what the hell’ moments (for instance they don’t seem to care that some of the zodiacs have sexual relationships even though they are blood related). While reading the series I have laughed and even teared up a little at times. Though I am not usually a fan of the drama genre, it was a joy to read the way everything built up yet unravelled at the same time.
I would definitely suggest that those experienced with Manga read this series if they haven’t already. It may be a little ‘hardcore’ for those who are new to Manga though. Yet the issues and messages in Fruits Basket are universal, regardless of the experience of the reader – in that sense it has the chance to be enjoyed even by those who are dismissive of Manga and Graphic Novels. In the end Fruits Basket succeeds because it is heartfelt and honest which is a beautiful and rare accomplishment.
♥♥♥♥ – 4/5